Mitt's abortion Etch-A-Sketch

Romney finds new ways to be "multiple-choice" on abortion

Published October 10, 2012 3:21AM (EDT)

       (AP/Evan Vucci/Salon/Benjamin Wheelock)
(AP/Evan Vucci/Salon/Benjamin Wheelock)

Here is a new way for Mitt Romney to express an ever-contorted position on abortion rights: “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda,” he told the Des Moines Register today. Not long afterward, there was an apparent reversal, with his campaign spokeswoman telling the National Review's Katrina Trinko that Romney would "of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life."  This may not have been an error at all; it may be a semi-clumsy entry in Romney's long history of telling people what he thinks they want to hear, even if it contradicts what he said before. What's clear is how blatantly false the statement is on the facts.

Let's start with "there's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with," a crafty piece of legalese from a man who doesn't like to talk about his Harvard law degree. Maybe Mitt Romney has never heard of the 59 votes his running mate, Paul Ryan, has cast against abortion and reproductive rights in 13 years in the House, or the 38 bills Ryan co-sponsored on the same! Maybe he has no idea that if Republicans take the presidency and the Senate, there'll be very little to stop the uterus-obsessed denizens of the House from getting their dream agenda, including restrictions on abortion, Planned Parenthood funding, and contraceptive access. Perhaps he doesn't remember that he himself told "Personhood" supporter Mike Huckabee that he would "absolutely" support a human life amendment. And there's a chance Romney missed his running mate saying just a couple of weeks ago that the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act would be gone on "day one … I can guarantee you that." (Then again, why stop there when you've already promised to repeal the entire thing?)

Somehow I doubt it, though.

This sort of passing the buck on the president's role in maintaining, or eroding, the right to a safe and legal abortion is par for the course for Romney. He previously tried to wriggle out of any responsibility for an abortion rights position (whichever one) by saying that it's a "settled" matter for the courts, as if he, as president, wouldn't be the one appointing both the federal judges that decide on individual state restrictions or the Supreme Court justices that will make the ultimate call. Chris Hayes put it starkly, and accurately, in a tweet: "The 5th vote to uphold Roe is a 79 yo cancer survivor. Just FYI."

Romney also repeated standard right-to-life falsehoods that went unchallenged by the Des Moines Register, which may simply not have known better. The paper paraphrased Romney's support for reinstating the Mexico City Policy and said it "bans U.S. foreign aid dollars from being used to do abortions." That's not what the policy does. No U.S. funds are currently being used to fund abortion overseas, and the only thing that has changed under Obama is that groups that advocate for safe and legal abortion aren't being punished for doing so by not getting U.S. funds for, say, family planning services. (Even now, that doesn't go very far.)

Which one represents his "real" position? I don't think there is one. The most telling Romney utterance of the past few years wasn't on abortion but rather on gay rights. Romney the Massachusetts Senate candidate wrote a letter to the Log Cabin Republicans declaring, "I am more convinced than ever before that as we seek to establish full equality for America’s gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent.” Romney the Republican primary hopeful said to a bright-red audience of the same letter, “Well, OK, let’s look at that in the context of who it’s being written to.” He was running for office, for Pete's sake.

By now, it's fairly obvious that Romney sees abortion rights as another hoop he has to wearily jump through, in whatever direction. But today's Republican party, full of absolutists like Ryan and Akin who are tired of the compromises of the past, is unlikely to let him slip away when it really counts.

By Irin Carmon

Irin Carmon is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @irincarmon or email her at

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Abortion Election 2012 Mitt Romney Reproductive Rights